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Distractions help movie heroes and self defense

You see it in so many action movies. The good guys need to escape from or infiltrate the bad guys’ headquarters. The baddies seem to be everywhere and the odds of victory slim.

What is a hero to do?

Hero’s sidekick: There are too many of them! We’ll never get through!
Hero: Don’t worry.  All we need is a distraction.

Never underestimate the power of a good distraction. In the movies, the heroes may distract with an explosive device, an empty car rolling off in the opposite direction, or a ploy where they pretend to be something other than they really are.


Rodeo clowns are masters of distraction

Distraction’s Power
In the movies, the distraction works because it redirects attention away from the real action or situation.

It’s the same in self defense. You want to take the attacker’s mind one direction, while you do something in another direction.

It’s deception, sleight of hand, lying, pretense, and fakery all rolled up in a quick move, motion, or mental game. It’s not quite like Obi Wan’s ability to do the Jedi mind control thing ( “These are not the droids we are looking for”), but it’s handy nonetheless.

Why do you need it? A prepared, ready person can tighten down the stomach, block an attack, and plan a counter attack. A surprised person is put back on their heels, forced to react instead of respond. You want to be the one responding, not reacting.

(Disclaimer:  There is no one way or procedure I can recommend in self defense situation because each is unique.  I can give options, but you must decide what to do in the heat of the moment and with the insider’s view of the situation.)

Visual Distractions:
You want to use any eye-catching visual that takes their mind off of you for a moment, so you can execute a plan of action.

  • Throwing something at the person
  • Picking up an item, like a chair, and charging at the person
  • Tossing dollar bills up in the air
  • Pretending to draw back for certain strike, but striking elsewhere instead
  • Swinging a larger camera by its neck strap while positioning yourself closer to an exit
  • Aiming a spewing fire extinguisher at the attacker

Verbal Distractions:
Use any words or ploys that you can think of to take them off their attack track. Let your intuition and insider’s view of the moment guide you.

  • Yelling “Fire! Fire! Fire!” repeatedly until attention arrives or you escape
  • Cursing as if you irritated by it all and are unafraid
  • Voicing your compliance with fake fearfulness until you are ready to make your move
  • Lie when home alone: “Joe! Wake up Joe! Get the shotgun! We’ve got an intruder to kill!”

Tactile Distractions:
Use any physical distraction or quick cause of pain to free up a moment — to flee to safety or to set up another move.

  • Slashing with keys
  • Spitting at the eyes
  • Grabbing toward face and eyes, but only to mask another move
  • Stomping down on attacker’s foot
  • Cupping your hands and striking onto attacker’s ears simultaneously, popping the ear drums
  • Picking up an improvised weapon and strike they eyes or downward on the nose

Mental Distractions:
You can try anything that will give them pause, cause them to have doubt, or sets them back on their heels so you can take action.

  • “Does your mother know you are out doing this?”
  • Faking a quick glance behind the attacker, as if someone is there (yes, it sometimes works)
  • Reaching in your purse like you have a weapon and yelling at the attacker to “Back off!”
  • Smiling at the attacker calmly as if you know something they don’t

Survival can mean outwitting, outlasting, outmaneuvering, outdistancing, and yes, outfighting your attacker.  All of these are made more powerful when you create a good distraction first.

And when you use distractions together —  throwing an item toward the attacker, yelling FIRE! repeatedly, stomping the attacker’s foot or crushing his nose, and smiling all the while like a scary wild person — you make yourself an undesirable target with more chances to defend yourself or to escape to safety.


Thank you for visiting and learning about self defense.
If you think others can benefit, please pass it on!

Lori Hoeck


Photo credits
Top cbrown1023

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • janice September 24, 2009, 7:58 am

    This is fanrastically useful and read like a film, Lori! As I mentally visualised each one, I tapped into my half century’s worth of films and could imagine myself in all of those situations.

    I’ve actually been in one of those situations; I inadvertently foiled a burglary by shouting at my drowsy husband as I leapt out of bed to investigate a noise. Luckily, I checked the downstairs rooms first. If I’d gone next door, to an empty room we were decorating, I’d have stumbled across the burglar.

  • janice September 24, 2009, 7:59 am

    “fanrastically?” 😉

  • Lori Hoeck September 24, 2009, 8:32 am

    Hi Janice,
    Hey, I thought it was a “fanrastical” comment! If Shakespeare could make up words, so can you.

    “I tapped into my half century’s worth of films and could imagine myself in all of those situations” — way to make the post more meaningful to you!

  • Barbara Swafford September 26, 2009, 2:55 am

    Hi Lori,

    These are all superb tips. As you know, I had a friend who used the “lie you’re home alone” trick.

    I have a friend who lives alone and whenever she needs a service call for TV, phone, or whatever, she keeps one of her bedroom doors closed. She’ll nonchalantly mention her “brother, husband or whomever” is a day sleeper and she “hopes” the noise won’t wake “him”.

    I’ve also heard by pretending you’re having a seizure works in some instances.

    I love your idea of looking like a scary person. They might be the one running from the scene. 🙂

  • Davina September 27, 2009, 11:46 pm

    Hi Lori.
    Thanks for all of this. It’s interesting how some of these techniques stand out for me. The mental distractions such as faking a quick glance behind the attacker and smiling at them as if I know something they don’t. Great tips. I hope I don’t ever have to use them, but now that you’ve planted the seed, I’ll be ready.

  • Lori Hoeck September 28, 2009, 9:47 am

    Hi Davina,
    Forewarned is, indeed, fore-armed.

  • Lori Hoeck October 1, 2009, 2:33 pm

    Hi Barbara,
    Thank you. I like your friend’s awareness and savviness! Now that’s Thinking Like A Black Belt!

    Pretending to have a seizure is kind of “iffy” because it leaves you vulnerable — you won’t be able to block a kick or hit if you want to “stay in character.” You can use it to move yourself closer to an improvised weapon or an exit. I’d save this one for faking your way off an airplane where they have kept passengers on for four hours and won’t let anyone off. (Oops, did I write just that out loud?)

  • zaelyna March 14, 2010, 7:41 am

    “Smiling at the attacker calmly as if you know something they don’t”

    I’ve always enjoyed the idea of acting insane around an attacker. Fits my personality so well O:)